Over the weekend, a series of media reports revealed that a data analytics firm hired by the Trump campaign to target voters, called Cambridge Analytica, obtained information on 50 million people from a researcher who scraped it from Facebook. It wasn’t a breach, but it was a startling reminder of how Facebook as a platform can be made to work against users’ interests without their knowledge.
This has put Facebook in a precarious position in Canada, where the social network has been doing damage control since the 2016 US election revealed the extent to which information on the platform can be manipulated or designed by foreign political actors, and gamed in general. In October of last year, Facebook launched what it called the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative to allay fears that the next Canadian federal election—slated for 2019—will be troubled by similar shenanigans.
On Tuesday, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada—Canada’s federal privacy watchdog—announced that it is investigating Facebook about whether Canadians’ data was obtained by Cambridge Analytica and if the social network complied with Canada’s federal privacy laws. Also on Tuesday, an anonymous source told the CBC that Christopher Wylie, the contractor who blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s data practices, pushed similar data harvesting techniques while working for the Liberal Party in 2009. The party declined to go along with his suggestions, the source said.
Acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison told reporters on Tuesday that the government is open to bringing Facebook executives before a parliamentary committee, and strengthening privacy laws. Brison also said the government has asked the Communications Security Establishment—Canada’s NSA analog—to “engage on this.”
The controversy has pushed some politicians to say the “R” word—regulation. Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont told the CBC that data analytics on social media is now an “arms race” for politicians, and “The only way things can get better … is if everybody agrees to regulate and disarm.”
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